Bats are small, generally harmless to humans, and eat a lot of insects that would otherwise infect our bodies or ruin our fruit. That doesn’t stop this air-to-leaf pounce from being kind of scary, though.

We know that many bats find their food through echolocation, but for some time we didn’t know how far their powers extended. Catching an insect in flight is impressive enough. Catching an insect sitting absolutely still, on a leaf that’s moving, among other leaves that are also moving, in complete darkness, is even more impressive. How does a bat do it?


This 2013 study from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that insectivorous bats locate motionless prey using a hovering and scanning sequence. The sequences in broken down in this image, and its description.

(a) Beginning of the scanning behaviour with the bat moving upwards, to the right-hand side of the leaf. (b) Movement from the right-hand side (distance to prey ca 10 cm) of the leaf downwards. (c) Movement towards the centre of the leaf with the dragonfly (distance ca 14 cm). (d) The bat flies closer towards the leaf while moving slightly upwards (from a distance of ca 8 cm to a distance of ca 5 cm to prey). Bat hovering on the spot close to prey. (e) With the head directed towards the prey, the bat briefly flies backwards (approx. 5 cm). (f) Bat changes flight direction again and moves forward with its head turned slightly upwards (distance approx. 9 cm). (g) Final approach. (h) End of scanning by touching the experimental leaf and landing on the prey. Taking prey off the leaf. (i) Take off with the dragonfly.

In my opinion they should change “h” from “end of scanning by touching the experiment leaf and landing on the prey” to “sweet-ass pounce,” but even science has some limitations.

[Source: Perception of silent and motionless prey on vegetation by echolocation in the gleaning bat Micronycteris microtis]